The Fourth National Climate Assessment

Friday afternoon the government released its Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress. Friday afternoon of the four-day weekend, of course, is a good time to bury it. But we’ve become accustomed to these tactics, and the report did not go unnoticed.

Thirteen government agencies contributed. The report looks solid, an indication that Donald Trump and his climate deniers couldn’t mess with the agencies’ mandates. This is a pattern that has shown up before in sanctions against Russia. Trump tweets one thing, his political appointees toe his line, and the agencies do their job. It’s encouraging that parts of the government can do their jobs. Read More

Soviet Days Of August

There is a cluster of days, starting with today, in 1991 and before which were fateful for the Soviet Union.

August 23, 1939: Foreign Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov (Soviet Union) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Germany) signed an agreement not to go to war against each other. It included a secret protocol in which the two countries divided up the territories between them: Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Germany invaded Poland in September, and the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November. That was the start of World War II. The Soviet Union took the Baltic states in June 1940, but a year later, Germany invaded them. In 1944, the Soviets returned to drive the Germans out.

August 23, 1989: People in the Baltic states, now republics of the Soviet Union, formed a chain, holding hands from Tallinn to Vilnius to protest the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. At that time, the Soviet Union refused to recognize that the secret protocol to the pact existed. Although the Baltic states were under Soviet rule, most other nations did not recognize this and dealt with Baltic governments in exile. This is the situation now with the Russian occupation of Crimea. Mikhail Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and there was unrest across the Soviet Union and its satellites. In October, Gorbachev gave the satellite countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany) autonomy from Soviet Communist rule.

August 19, 1991: Soviet military personnel stage a coup against Gorbachev. Lithuania had declared independence in March 1990, and several other Soviet republics were moving toward independence. Gorbachev was considering liberalizing the Soviet constitution to allow more freedom to the republics. The coup plotters felt that Gorbachev was betraying the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was weakened, and Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, strengthened himself politically by standing against the plotters. The coup failed, but it assured the end of the Soviet Union. Over the next several days, Latvia, Estonia, and most of the other republics declared independence. (New York Times, BBC, Association for Diplomatic Studies) Through the next months, other republics declared independence, and finally, on December 25, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.

 

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.

 

 

We Still Don’t Know

It is almost a week, and we have no reliable information about the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Trump and Putin spent two and a half hours together in Helsinki with no note-takers, no expert advice, only their interpreters. We have no record of what happened during those two and a half hours, no record of what either man said or may have promised.

The standard practice to have note-takers in such a meeting is because the president is not representing himself, but rather the country. It’s important to have notes because memories of a meeting may be inaccurate or the other party may dispute them.

Engagement in serious discussion precludes note-taking or even forming a coherent memory of all the things said and done. A competent interlocutor pays attention to what the other party is saying and thinks about what s/he will say, informed by recall of materials studied before the meeting. Read More

What Might We Learn From North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site?

Kim Jong Un announced that he would close North Korea’s nuclear test site. The Trump administration has greeted this announcement as part of its success in dealing with North Korea.

But North Korea may be doing less than Trump thinks. Read More

The DOE Announces Plans For Pit Production

The Department of Energy has been contemplating the future production of nuclear weapon pits – the fissile part of the weapon, usually plutonium. Rocky Flats, between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, used to do it, but it turned into an environmental disaster. All buildings have been removed from the site.

Los Alamos and Savannah River are the only two DOE sites that can work with plutonium. Both put themselves into the running for the task. Both have had some problems with safely handling the stuff, for example. The decision was announced today. Both were, in effect, selected. Read More

Too Much Information

Do you wear a Fitbit?

If you do, satellites may be watching you.

Yesterday, Strava, a social network that collects data from devices with GPS, uploaded a heat map of its users around the world to the internet. Intelligence services are now combing that map for data about hidden military bases and other tidbits. It’s apparently not just fitbits, but mobile phones and a lot of other devices.

The Guardian gives a few examples. A few more after the jump. Read More

PSA: Potassium Iodide

I see that, with Donald Trump’s threats of nuclear war, sales of potassium iodide are up.

A couple of reminders.

Potassium iodide protects your thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine, which is one of the fission products that would be spread around in a nuclear war. But it’s only one, and potassium iodide doesn’t protect against the large number of others, which go to other parts of your body. It also doesn’t protect against the radiation from a blast.

Taking potassium iodide can disrupt your physiology, so don’t take it unless the bombs go off. If you want to stockpile it just in case, go ahead, but treat it as medicine and keep it away from kids and pets. Put it in your survival gear, if you have something like that.

And I don’t think we’re going to have a nuclear war. Trump seems to be spinning down from that and moving on to disrupting North America’s economy by pulling out of NAFTA. He’s got a short attention span.

 

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.

Links – December 17, 2017

I don’t usually link to big news stories, thinking you’ve probably already seen them, but if you haven’t read this Washington Post story about Donald Trump’s feelings about Russian interference in the 2016 election, you are missing something. The article is framed around Trump’s unwillingness to accept the idea that his win might have had any other factors than his great charisma. I can see why the authors and editors might have done this to preserve some unity in a very complex story, but it is hard to believe that Trump’s ego is the only factor in play.

The secret history of the Russian consulate in San Francisco. Top photo of the roof of the consulate, with its multiple antennas. Read More

Sillamäe Again

Here’s a light but crabby post for a Saturday. Fits my mood.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Sillamäe, Estonia, and more thinking about it. So when a publication screws up the facts, I feel a need to respond.

This time, it’s Atlas Obscura doing a remarkable job of stuffing errors into a short article. Read More